Saturday, August 5, 2017

Senwosret III

     The sculptures shown in the previous post are not the only examples of royal art from the Middle Kingdom that show the pharaoh as careworn. The example here is now in the Metropolitan Museum. It is carved from quartzite and is highly expressive despite its damaged state.

     Senwosret III is here shown with heavy-lidded eyes and a downturned, almost sad looking mouth. The eye brows are heavy and creased just above the nose.

     There is a great deal of speculation as to why the Middle Kingdom kings were shown with such expressive faces. In both the Old and New Kingdoms, the Pharaoh is almost always shown as eternally youthful and with an expression of serene confidence, but not so in the Middle Kingdom. Did the Pharaohs of the Middle kingdom remember the hard times of the First Intermediate Period and foresee to oncoming difficulties of the Second Intermediate Period? Or are modern scholars reading way to much into this art style? It is hard to say, but it does create lively conversations among art historians.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Odd First Intermediate Period Stela

     The First Intermediate Period was a period of political instability. The artwork of the period is best called "provincial" as the well off nobles did not have access to the best sculptors and, for the most part, the artwork from this time shows it.

     This particular stela was carved for a man named Maaty and his wife Dedwi. The carvings are sunk fairly deep into the stone and then filled with paint or a paste of some sort. The inscription above Maaty and Dedwi contains the standard offering formula that reads from right to left and starts, "A gift given by the King and by Anubis, who is upon his hill..."
     A cynic would say that all First Intermediate Period stelae are odd, but this one has a quirk I have never seen before. Look on the right side of the third line of the text. The line starts with the signs "f nb nefer". Look carefully at the nefer sign (figure 2). The center of the bottom portion of the symbol is "hollow". This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only time this sign is carved in this way. What is the significance of this? It is hard to tell to be honest.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Middle Kingdom Royal Statues

Fig. 1 - Senwosret III (British Museum)
Fig. 2 - Senwosret III (detail)
     Middle Kingdom royal statuary is very different from Old Kingdom royal statues. In the Old Kingdom the king is shown with a serene, almost superior look on his face. He can handle any and all problems and nothing could possibly go wrong.

Fig. 4 - Senwosret III
Fig. 3 - Senwosret III (Brooklyn Museum)
     The First Intermediate Period shattered this illusion. Things could go badly wrong and the Pharaoh was far from infallible. As a result, royal statues from the Middle Kingdom often show the king with a care-worn expression on his face, almost as if the difficulties of his office are overly stressful even for a living god like the Pharaoh. A good example of this is a statue of Senwosret III (figures 1 and 2) that was found at Dier el-Bahri in the temple of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep (who re-unified Egypt and brought the First Intermediate Period to an end). This statue, with its downturned mouth and tired looking eyes, shows the King as a weary figure dealing with the tremendous responsibility of managing his kingdom.

     The statue in figures 3 and 4 once again shows the Pharaoh Senwosret III. The statue does harken back to the famous statue of Khafre (4th Dynasty) that is now in the Cairo Museum by showing the King seated on his throne, wearing a Nemes headdress and a "kilt". But Khafre is shown with a quietly confident look on his face, while this statue of Senwosret is strikingly different in that it shows the King once-again as careworn and almost sad.

     Another change in royal statuary is the appearance of statues carved on a colossal scale (I am not aware of a truly colossal statue dating to the Old Kingdom). The head shown in figure 5 is part of a statue found in Bubastis. The lower portion of the statue is carved with the name of Osorkon II (Dynasty 22), but the style of the face marks this piece of art as a representation of Amenemhat II. Not the deeply carved eyes which would have had insets placed in to represent the royal eyes.

Fig. 5 - Head of Amenemhat III, British Museum

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Famous Statuette of Pepi II and his Mother

     One of the Brooklyn Museum's most famous works of art is this delightful statuette of the Sixth Dynasty Pharaoh Pepi II and his mother Ankhnes-meryre II. It is made of alabaster and shows the Pharaoh's mother holding her son on her lap. Pepi came to the throne as a child, but is shown here as a small King, rather than as a child.

     This work of art has a few unusual features to it. For instance, even though Pepi is sitting on his mother's lap, his throne is shown to the side of the throne that Ankhnes-meryre II sits on. Also, there are separate inscriptions on the statuette, one for each person shown. The face of the Queen is not carved in great detail. The eyes are barely roughed out and one wonders if they were not painted on when the statue was first created. A hole in the Queen's forehead probably indicates that a uraeus was once appended to this object.

     Pepi is shown with almost impossibly long legs and with the body of an adult even though this statue clearly commemorates his mother's regency for her young son, who may have been about the age of five at his coronation.

     Pepi has the distinction of possibly being the longest reigning king in all of history. After coming to the throne as a child he may have lived to be about one hundred years of age (although some scholars dispute this and think that sixty was a more likely age for his death).

     A nobleman named Harkuf, who served under Merenre and Pepi II put a copy of a letter (which he received from the young king) on the wall of his tomb at Aswan. Harkuf had just led an expedition to Nubia and sent a message ahead to tell the child-king that he was returning with a dancing pygmy to entertain the Pharaoh. Pepi responded with a letter that  reads like a it was dictated by a child who was excited by the prospect of seeing the dancing pygmy. The letter tells Harkuf to guard his small charge carefully and to see that no harm came to him as the King desired to see this wonder more than anything. This letter is one of the few times in all of Egyptian history that we get a glimpse at the personal life of a ruler.

     The bad news to Pepe's reign was that he probably ruled too long and lost control of his kingdom. After his death, Egypt fell into a state of political chaos that we now call the First Intermediate Period.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pepi I

     Teti was the founder of the Sixth Dynasty and his son, Pepi I was either the second or third king of the dynasty. Some scholars think there was an usurper between Teti and Pepi I, others disagree.

     Teti and Pepi continued to build pyramids like their predecessors had. They also carried over a new idea first seen in the tomb of Unis (the last Pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty) when they had elaborate funerary texts, now called the Pyramid Texts, carved in their burial places. Funerary temples lay before the pyramids and are covered in elaborate, and beautifully executed, carvings.

     Statuary from Pepi's reign is not common. One of the most famous pieces from this reign is a copper statue of the king which is now in the Cairo Museum. The statue shows Pepi, with his arms at his sides, confidently striding forward.

     Another well-known representation of Pepi, now in the Brooklyn Museum,  is the statuette shown here. It is carved from Graywacke and has a small hole in the forehead where an uraeus would have been inserted. The pupils of the eyes are obsidian and the whites of the eyes are made of alabaster. The eyes themselves are inserted into copper rims. The Pharaoh is shown kneeling and offering "nu" pots to (probably) a god or goddess.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Old Kingdom Royal Sculpture

     At the beginning of the Old Kingdom royal statuary was still a bit blocky and not overly elegant. A good example of this is the granite head of the late Third Dynasty to early Fourth Dynasty statue shown here.

     The head is slightly larger than life-size and shows the king wearing the white crown. The face has rather indistinct features and a rather "brooding" expression. Notice also the impossibly large ears.

     This head, which is now in the Brooklyn Museum reminds me of similar ones I have seen from this time period (in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for instance).  The provenance of this head is unknown.

     Based on this statue it is rather hard to believe that in just a few years Egyptian sculptors will produce the exquisite statues of the Pharaoh Menkara that were found in that king's funerary temple at Giza.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The New Issue of KMT Magazine

     The new issue of KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt arrived in my mailbox. As always it is full of interesting articles and gorgeous photographs. The magazine contains an article on the contents of the almost intact tomb of Maiherpri (found in the Valley of the Kings in 1899) as well as coverage of a Ramesses II special exhibit in Karlsruhe, Germany and another special exhibit in the Turin Museum. The usual information packed columns are on display as  "For the Record" contains information about exhibits and new publications in Europe and the Americas and "Nile Currents" reports on the latest excavations in Egypt. All in all, another great issue.